Back in elementary school when I was hand-writing my newspaper The Lewisburg Snoopy Nose, I never dreamed what sort of tools journalists would be using today.
Unless I fell asleep watching “The Jetsons,” that is.
You know those unmanned drone planes that we’ve been using to target and eliminate terrorists overseas? According to the New York Times, American journalists are champing at the bit for the Federal Aviation Administration to lift restrictions so they can use (unarmed) drones for newsgathering.
News executives explain that the devices would be invaluable for displaying the magnitude of natural disasters, studying finicky wildlife, tracking illicit shipments and, most importantly, “saving flesh-and-blood reporters from sitting in the front row at the mayor’s press conference and listening to him try pronouncing words that start with ‘s.’ Sufferin’ succotash! That man has some saliva!”
Will drones remain a novelty for deep-pocketed news organizations, or will they enter the mainstream? Mass production will certainly bring down the cost of drones, but one also has to factor in the number that will be shot down either accidentally or with malice aforethought. (“Maybe a drug lord will go free, but this will teach you not to cancel ‘Mary Worth’ or throw my paper in the mud puddle...”)
Right now you need a certain amount of skill to operate a drone, but improvements in technology will soon make it possible to coordinate them with a smartphone app. Before long, some rookie will win a Pulitzer Prize for “protecting immigrants from unscrupulous employers, holes in the social safety net and hordes of Angry Birds.”
Foreign paparazzi are already using drones for outrageous invasions of privacy. We need strong ethical guidelines in this country before the onslaught of invasive drone technology, or the old standard of a reporter looking you in the eye and saying, “I have a few questions for you” will give way to a tinny voice behind you suggesting, “Turn your head and cough.”
Perhaps drones are the inevitable wave of the future, but can you imagine how journalistic history would have turned out if we had possessed such sophisticated tools earlier?
What if the late Jerry Thompson’s undercover expose of the Ku Klux Klan for Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper had been dependent on drones? (“We apologize for the third installment of the series being delayed, but the plane got tangled in the white sheets on the clothesline.”)
Would Richard Nixon have resigned if dozens of competing news organizations had tailed Woodward and Bernstein to their clandestine meetings with Deep Throat? (“Forget Watergate! We have a mosquito apocalypse to worry about!”)
Would public sentiment have turned so sharply against the Vietnam War if Walter Cronkite had merely dispatched a drone instead of going to the combat zone himself? Worse, what if drone transmissions had somehow gotten switched with a network feed of “Hogan’s Heroes”? (“In this reporter’s opinion, the war is a barrel of laughs. And that’s the way it is...”)
Yes, we need to make sure the drones are used only for the public good, or we’re doomed to excesses that would make Edward R. Murrow turn over in his grave.
(“Dude! Let’s use the new drill-equipped drone to make sure Edward R. Murrow is really turning over in his grave!”)
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”.